Thursday, September 15, 2011

Homophobia in Uganda: the Tip of an Iceberg of Prejudice

According to one of the Wikileaks cables released recently, the wife of Uganda's president, Janet Museveni, was covertly behind the country's infamous Anti-Homosexuality bill. That's not very surprising, given her avowed views on other matters, avidly supported by Ugandan and foreign religious and political interests. (There's a commentary on the cable by a San Diego news site but the authors may have gone a bit beyond the evidence in their conclusions.)

The cable dates back to 2009 and the bill in question was not passed, but disinformation about sexuality, homosexuality and other matters is well entrenched in the minds of many, not just in Uganda or other African countries. Through the disinformation process the bill has often become associated with HIV/AIDS in the press and elsewhere, given the association between HIV transmission in Africa and sex in the popular imagination.

John Naganda, who opposed the bill and advised the president to do so too, said those behind it were obfuscating differences between homosexuality, rape, incest, and pedophilia. But it is worth putting the extreme prejudice against homosexuality and homosexuals in Uganda and Africa as a whole in perspective.

The homophobia here is just a subset of a wider anti-African prejudice that lies behind HIV discourse in general. The obfuscation extends to the sexual behavior of all Africans, especially those who are HIV positive, or even those thought to be at risk of infection. It is commonplace to state or imply that HIV transmission is high in some African countries 'because of their sexual behavior'.

As in any other continent and country, rape, incest and pedophilia are to be deplored. But they are deplored by Africans just as they are by non-Africans. The fact that they occur does not mean that all Africans, or even nationals of any particular African country, condone them. But, no more than there is a correlation between sexual behavior in general and HIV prevalence in African countries, nor will any correlation between rape, incest or pedophilia be found.

Because the HIV industry has (surprisingly) accepted that homosexuality is unlikely to be any more common in African countries than in non-African countries, it has become their constant refrain that 80% (or even 90%) of HIV is transmitted through heterosexual intercourse. The industry has never demonstrated how heterosexual intercourse could carry such a high risk of transmitting HIV in African countries compared to elsewhere, so they also have to invent levels and types of heterosexual behavior that might 'explain' some anomalies.

Uganda and other countries have long been happy to accept the 'bad person' theory of HIV transmission, the view that it is spread by 'evil things', whatever those things may be. As a result, fingers have been pointed at sex workers, long distance drivers, foreigners, migrant laborers, homosexuals and various other groups. Not only do the HIV industry and those informed about HIV (and 'African' sexuality) by them buy into the orthodoxy, but many Africans seem unwilling to oppose such an extreme manifestation of racism.

In Uganda and other high HIV prevalence African countries, men having sex with men account for a very small percentage of transmission. Intravenous drug users also are a small group and account for another small percentage; the two groups may even overlap considerably. But those most at risk are people who are, according to the orthodoxy, not really at very high risk at all, people in long term, heterosexual relationships.

According to the Ugandan Modes of Transmission Report, exactly 1% of HIV is transmitted by a combination of men who have sex with men, their female partners, intravenous drug users and the partners of intravenous drug users. Kenya's report, talking of obfuscation, lumps men who have sex with men along with prison populations (though not intravenous drug users) and comes up with 15%, so it's impossible to compare the two. But as in Uganda, most transmission is attributed to what amounts to low risk exposure.

The kind of stigma and prejudice that arises from the view that almost all HIV is transmitted through heterosexual sex in African countries seems to allow people, even encourage them, to hate, to discriminate, to persecute, to treat like animals, perhaps even to kill, rather than to investigate and understand why over 40% of people in some demographic groups are infected with a virus that should never have become a serious epidemic.


1 comment:

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